Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Being in accordance with, conforming to, or upholding the exact or primary meaning of a word or words.
  • adj. Word for word; verbatim: a literal translation.
  • adj. Avoiding exaggeration, metaphor, or embellishment; factual; prosaic: a literal description; a literal mind.
  • adj. Consisting of, using, or expressed by letters: literal notation.
  • adj. Conforming or limited to the simplest, nonfigurative, or most obvious meaning of a word or words.
  • n. Computer Science A letter or symbol that stands for itself as opposed to a feature, function, or entity associated with it in a programming language: $ can be a symbol that refers to the end of a line, but as a literal, it is a dollar sign.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Exactly as stated; read or understood without additional interpretation; according to the letter or verbal expression; real; not figurative or metaphorical.
  • adj. Following the letter or exact words; not free; not taking liberties.
  • adj. Consisting of, or expressed by, letters.
  • n. A value, as opposed to an identifier, written into the source code of a computer program.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. According to the letter or verbal expression; real; not figurative or metaphorical.
  • adj. Following the letter or exact words; not free.
  • adj. Consisting of, or expressed by, letters.
  • adj. Giving a strict or literal construction; unimaginative; matter-of-fact; -- applied to persons.
  • n. Literal meaning.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Consisting of, expressed by, or representing letters; alphabetic.
  • According to the letter of verbal expression.
  • Following the letter or exact words.
  • Exact; especially, mechanically precise: as, the too literal execution of an order.
  • Characterized by a tendency to regard everything in a matter-of-fact, unimaginative way: as, a very literal person.
  • Synonyms See verbal.
  • n. Literal meaning.
  • Affecting or relating to a letter: as, literal errors, literal rhymes.
  • n. In printing, a literal error; that is, a wrongly placed letter; a misprint.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. avoiding embellishment or exaggeration (used for emphasis)
  • adj. without interpretation or embellishment
  • adj. being or reflecting the essential or genuine character of something
  • adj. limited to the explicit meaning of a word or text
  • n. a mistake in printed matter resulting from mechanical failures of some kind

Etymologies

Middle English, from Old French, from Late Latin litterālis, of letters, from Latin littera, lītera, letter; see letter.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Old French literal, from Late Latin litteralis, also literalis ("of or pertaining to letters or to writing"), from Latin littera, litera ("a letter"); see letter. (Wiktionary)

Examples

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